BISHKEK –The former deputy chief of Kyrgyzstan’s Customs Service, Raimbek Matraimov, has changed his last name after being placed on the U.S. Magnitsky sanctions list for his alleged involvement in the illegal funneling of hundreds of millions of dollars abroad.
A spokesperson for Kyrgyzstan’s state registration service, Damira Azimbaeva, confirmed to RFE/RL on January 20 that both Matraimov and his wife, Uulkan Turgunova, had changed their surnames.
Azimbaeva did not give the new surnames due to confidentiality laws regarding personal data, adding that every person in Kyrgyzstan has the right to change his or her name legally.
However, on January 15 a Bishkek court judge delayed a hearing into a libel lawsuit filed by Matraimov’s family against RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, known locally as Azattyk, its correspondent Ali Toktakunov, and the news site Kloop.
Judge Jyldyz Ibraimova said that Matraimov had changed his last name to Ismailov, and his wife had changed her surname to Sulaimanova.
The judge added that the hearing will proceed after lawyers for Matraimov and his wife submit official documents proving that their last names had been legally changed.
In early December, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that it had slapped sanctions on Matraimov for his role in a vast corruption and money-laundering scheme in the Central Asian country.
The $700 million scheme involved a company controlled by Matraimov bribing officials to skirt customs fees and regulations, as well as engaging in money laundering, “allowing for maximum profits,” the U.S. Treasury Department said.
The sanctions fell under the Magnitsky Act, a piece of legislation passed by the United States in 2012 that penalizes individuals responsible for committing human rights violations or acts of significant corruption.
In June 2019, an investigation by RFE/RL, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and Kloop implicated Matraimov in a corruption scheme involving the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars out of Kyrgyzstan by Chinese-born Uyghur businessman Aierken Saimaiti, who was assassinated in Istanbul in November 2019.
In October, Matraimov was detained on corruption charges and placed under house arrest.
Kyrgyz authorities said at the time that Matraimov had agreed to pay about 2 billion soms ($23.5 million) in damages to the state, and that 80 million soms (almost $1 million) had been transferred to its account.
A former judge on the Constitutional Court, Klara Sooronkulova, told RFE/RL on January 20 that she believes Matraimov and his wife are trying to evade the U.S.-imposed sanctions by changing their names.
“I think after being placed under the Magnitsky Act, many doors around the world will be closed for them. Many problems may now arise for them to keep their property under their ownership,” Sooronkulova said.
There have been no official statements from the lawyers of Matraimov’s family to explain the decision to change their names.